• Editor’s Note Winter 2012

    Editor’s Note Winter 2012

    We bushwhacked our way through a tangled patch of riverbank plants. The thick stems were still bent from the rushing flood waters, parallel with the ground as if bowing respectfully to the river. That river, the Dog River, was babbling as sweetly as any other Vermont tributary that early September day, but those of us on the volunteer clean-up crew at Dog River Farm in Berlin had a lot more respect for it—and for the power of water—than we’d had just a week before.

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  • A Poet and His Apples

    A Poet and His Apples

    At the Robert Frost Stone House Museum in South Shaftsbury—his Vermont residence from 1920 to 1928—an ancient and magisterially gnarled Snow apple tree presides over the grounds. Placed, probably by the poet’s own hands, in a commanding spot directly behind the house, it was the only one of its kind among the hundreds of apple trees planted on the 80-acre farm during the 1920s. The rest of the orchard, which Frost envisioned as “a new Garden of Eden with a thousand apple trees of some unforbidden variety,” was set behind the barn and populated with McIntosh, Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, and Red Astrachan trees.

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  • From the Ground Up

    From the Ground Up

    There’s no doubt the colorful Earthgirl Composting signs on my black Volvo catch people’s attention and pique their interest. Some smile, wave, or give me the peace sign or a thumbs up. Others laugh when they read my “curbside compost pickup” sign. Those are the people who don’t understand what I do. I can only imagine what they think!

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  • A Canning Party

    A Canning Party

    The canning party began innocently enough. One young mother, living far from her own mother, wanted to learn how to preserve her garden’s bounty. Casually, at church, she asked if she could come help me can. We set up a time, and Sarah and I spent a happy couple of hours pressure-canning green beans.

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  • Set the Table with Kombucha

    Set the Table with Kombucha

    As cold and flu season approaches, health-conscious Vermonters are reaching back through the ages to brew kombucha, a fermented beverage with a unique taste and widely touted benefits to the immune system. Although kombucha’s benefits are of use all year long, the start of a Vermont winter seems a good time to investigate this intriguing drink.

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  • Three Farms, One Town, One Storm

    Three Farms, One Town, One Storm

    The Perley Farm stretches between Route 107 and the White River in South Royalton, on a piece of land exactly level with the river. A highway bridge for I-89 runs right above the pasture. It’s a 40-year-old conventional dairy with a mixed herd of approximately two dozen cows, owned by Harlan “Duke” Perley and run by Larry and Penny Severance. A week before Tropical Storm Irene, Duke was in New Jersey, where he lives part time with his family, undergoing surgery to receive a pacemaker. When parts of the East Coast began to evacuate, he loaded up his two nieces, their two grandsons, and a daughter-in-law and headed up to the farm, where they thought they’d be safer.

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  • Three Farms, One Town, One Storm—Perley Interview

    Three Farms, One Town, One Storm—Perley Interview

    Duke Perley: We’ve farmed here for 40 years, and down the river, 135 years.

    Penny Severance: I was a neighbor, so I always came down as a little kid and helped if the cows got out. [Duke] used to come and get us to help put the cows back in. Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper I’ve been helping the Perleys do something with the farm. He used to give me a quarter, then it got to 50 cents. I still have all my 50-cent pieces. My husband and I have both lost our dad, so Perl’s been our godfather whether he wants us or not, he’s stuck with us. He’s who we go to for fatherly advice, anything that we need.

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  • Three Farms, One Town, One Storm—Bigelow Interview

    Three Farms, One Town, One Storm—Bigelow Interview

    DK: What was it like when the flood came through?

    Jim Bigelow: My grandparents bought the farm in 1921, right before the flood of 1927. Dennis was telling stories about how my dad said they weren’t able to do anything with that field down there for five years after the flood of ’27.

    That used to be a schoolhouse over there. (He points past his lower field to a brick building across the river, next to the Perley Farm.) My grandmother was a schoolteacher. The ’27 flood came up to the bottom of the windows, and this time it got to the top of the windows. Of course things have changed since then. The interstate was put in over the river and I think the bridge changes the flood pattern, and that’s why it totally wiped out Perley’s.

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  • Three Farms, One Town, One Storm—Hurricane Flats Interview

    Three Farms, One Town, One Storm—Hurricane Flats Interview

    DK: When you heard on the news that the storm was coming, what did you think?

    Geo Honigford: I know from history that storms and floods happen. It never occurred to me that we’d get that much rain. The standard joke when I was on jobsites the week after the hurricane—I spent the whole time working on other people’s houses—was ‘oh we don’t have to do that, the river will never get THIS high again.’ It never occurred to me that the river would get up there. We were buttoned down for wind. We had greenhouses full of crops and we were really concerned about wind. And it turned out that we had no wind whatsoever. Just copious amounts of rain. The sides of my greenhouses are slashed – we did that. We waded out into the river, and the pressure was building up on the greenhouse sides and was going to collapse it. So we had to let the water go through the greenhouse, basically reverse the process; instead of battening them up, we had to open them up. We didn’t have time to open them up properly so we just took knives to them. It’s a lot cheaper to lose the plastic than to lose the frame.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Parse the Parsnips

    Farmers' Kitchen—Parse the Parsnips

    Life on a vegetable farm slows down in the late fall and early winter. Most of the daily chores that keep us hopping the rest of the year—seeding, planting, weeding, and harvesting—are pretty much completed by this time, with some notable exceptions: We’re still harvesting the hardiest of crops, including parsnips, kale, spinach, and Brussels sprouts, even with the snow flying. But most of the land lays fallow, sporting only the nutrient-rich cover crops of winter rye and oats.

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  • The Other Great Flood

    The Other Great Flood

    When the 1927 flood hit, devastating damage occurred on Vermont farms, primarily losses of livestock and barns. And yet the same spirit of cooperation evident after Irene was very present back then, as illustrated by the flyer at right, which could have been written today.

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  • The Threats from Upstream

    The Threats from Upstream

    If only it had been simpler. If only the rain had just washed the crops away.

    But the floodwaters of Tropical Storm Irene didn’t wash much Vermont produce away. Instead, crops on flooded farms became covered in water and silt that potentially harbored chemicals or microbes that could endanger human health. Accordingly, on September 2, the Vermont Department of Agriculture released a warning about the consumption of fruits and vegetables that had been inundated by floodwaters. Borrowing the succinct wording of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Agency stated that “there is no practical method of reconditioning the edible portion of a crop that will provide a reasonable assurance of human food safety.” In other words, flooded crops had to be thrown away.

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Set the Table with Kombucha

Lombucha on tap

Written By

Sylvia Fagin

Written on

December 01 , 2011

As cold and flu season approaches, health-conscious Vermonters are reaching back through the ages to brew kombucha, a fermented beverage with a unique taste and widely touted benefits to the immune system. Although kombucha’s benefits are of use all year long, the start of a Vermont winter seems a good time to investigate this intriguing drink.

Kombucha is made by combining a culture of bacteria and yeast with strong tea, sugar, and time—roughly two weeks. Fruit juices are often added to offset kombucha’s sharp taste, and medicinal herbs are sometimes used for additional benefits. The exact historical origins of kombucha are unknown; some sources trace it to Russia, others to ancient Asia. Stories abound about home brewers concocting small batches in their kitchens, which several Vermonters do for selling kombucha at farmers’ markets and small cafes.

One Vermont company, Aqua Vitea, brews kombucha on a larger scale for commercial sale throughout the state and region. And it is engaging with other Vermont companies to make this unique beverage more local, through partnerships with cafes, co-ops, natural food stores, and fruit growers.

For Aqua Vitea founder Jeff Weaber and his wife, Katina Martin, a naturopathtic physician, Aqua Vitea is the perfect way to combine their skills and experience with their desire to create a healthy community. On their 15-acre farm in Salisbury, Jeff capitalizes on his beer-brewing expertise, Katina sees patients at her clinic, and together with two other families they raise meat animals for sale to neighbors and area restaurants.

“The farm really represents what we’re trying to do, which is build sustainable health systems,” Jeff says. Salisbury Natural Family Health, Katina’s clinic, is attached to their home, and Aqua Vitea’s brewing room is housed in the basement of the rambling 1850 farmhouse.


“Strong” is a word often affiliated with kombucha, and it’s the word Jeff uses to describe his first taste of it approximately eight years ago, when he and Katina were living in Oregon. She was studying naturopathy; he was working at a beer brewery.

The beer-brewing lifestyle prompted Jeff to consider doing something other than “drinking beer at seven in the morning,” he recalls, laughing as he remembers those days. “I had to sample stuff—coffee in one hand, beer in the other—and by the end of the day, I was wiped out. I started looking at other things.”

“Katina’s studies were a big influence,” he adds, “the idea of functional beverages and food as medicine. Naturopaths are really focused on digestive health as an overall factor in health.” When he had that first taste of kombucha, well, “It grabbed me really strong,” he remembers with a chuckle

Kombucha was just hitting the commercial market at that time, and Jeff started brewing it at home. Most home brewers start with a half gallon or gallon batch of kombucha; he started with a 20-gallon batch, which he shared with friends and co-workers. “It was popular both with Katina’s friends at school who were into that kind of thing,” he says, “and with people in the brewery world who weren’t.”

Kombucha contains probiotics, generally considered beneficial to the body, and the enzymes present in fermented foods that aid digestion, according to Katina. “Fermented foods have a higher acidity so you’re better able to stimulate your own digestive tract to get working,” she says. “A lot of naturopathic medicine is based on the health of the gastrointestinal system, which is really closely involved with your immune system. So, fermented foods in general should be a mainstay of the diet.”

When Katina graduated, the pair moved to Vermont. She established a naturopathic practice, and Jeff thought it was tthe perfect time to begin a kombucha enterprise. The business has since grown to four full-time employees, and Jeff’s first 20-gallon batch has grown to fifty 20-gallon stainless steel tanks in a temperature-controlled fermentation room under the house. Brewer Mike Kin spends most of his time in this pungent air, keeping copious notes on the ingredients in each of the tanks.

Aqua Vitea brews several flavors of raw, unpasteurized kombucha. The company sources elderberries from Quebec and has used organic apple cider from Kent Ridge Orchards in Cornwall. “We’re trying to work with as many Vermont farmers as we can,” Jeff emphasizes. “Cultivating health means business relationships as well.” Aqua Vitea is currently developing a flavor with Vermont Cranberry Company in Fletcher and a black currant variety with Cherry Hill Farm in Springfield and Walnut Grove Farm in New York’s Hudson Valley.

One unique flavor came from a partnership with On the Rise Bakery in Richmond. On the Rise cultivates a large garden, and last year the cafe grew watermelons that they juiced. Jeff and his crew used the juice to brew a special watermelon kombucha sold only at On the Rise Bakery.

After the kombucha ferments for two weeks or so, it’s pumped into five-gallon soda kegs that comprise an important element of Aqua Vitea’s mission. Some of the fruity brew is bottled in single-serving containers but more of it travels in the kegs to stores, where it’s sold fresh on tap—a niche Aqua Vitea pioneered. Empty bottles and growlers are sold near the taps for customers to fill and refill, saving money and resources.

“We were the first kombucha company in the country to do it,” Jeff says. “That’s what we’d like to keep doing, putting tap machines around and getting people to re-use bottles. It’s definitely our preferred method; it has a much more ecological foundation.” It’s more economical, too—for every $15,000 in sales at the tap, he estimates, the company avoids using one ton of glass bottles.

Of the approximately 35 retail outlets in Vermont and New England, 20 or so have kegs, Jeff says. The company requires stores to help with the cost of setting up the machine; he notes that some stores have raised funds within the community to bring in the machine.

At Healthy Living Market in South Burlington, the cafe has recently begun serving “probiotic elixirs,” smoothies and cold drinks that combine fresh juices with kombucha. Healthy Living and Aqua Vitea collaborated to develop the drinks, which have met with a “strong response”—that word again—according to John Murphy, front of house manager at Healthy Living Market.

“The drinks complement what people are looking for in kombucha,” John says. The drinks also introduce kombucha to new audiences, he adds. “Part of what we do is educate people about things they haven’t tried yet.”

Another unique Vermont partnership has led to an expansion of the Aqua Vitea product line to include “Cultured Tea.” In collaboration with Stone Leaf Teahouse in Middlebury, Jeff chose three quality tea flavors to blend with brewed kombucha—jasmine pearl, ginseng oolong, and rooibos. The cultured teas combine some of the characteristic zing of kombucha along with the tea’s subtle flavor. Unlike most drinks, the Cultured Tea is unsweetened.

“After making kombucha for eight years, I started getting the sense that it’s powerful stuff, and you should probably be drinking about four ounces of kombucha a day. But, being gluttonous Americans, everybody’s drinking 16–32 ounces of kombucha a day. So, we were interested in finding a way to use kombucha as an ingredient in a more mild way.”


For those who want to brew kombucha at home, it’s fairly easy. Ingrid Burrows of Living Roots Farm in Marlboro, along with friend and business partner Leah Mutz of Annamari Farm in Halifax, brews small batches of kombucha that they sell at the Brattleboro and Putney farmers’ markets.

“I’ve been making it for quite a few years,” Ingrid says. “I got started brewing kombucha out of a passion for the health benefits of fermented foods. I think it’s a lost art. Most historical and indigenous cultures, from all over the world, have a method for preserving food through fermentation.”

Ingrid sells kombucha by the cup and sells the “mother” kombucha cultures necessary to brew at home. Mother cultures are also available online. “It’s fun to sell the cultures because kombucha can be expensive to buy,” she says, “once you get hooked.” And it can be easy to get hooked.

“A lot of people are surprised when they first try kombucha,” continues Ingrid. She reports overhearing a regular customer tell a new customer, “It’s disgusting at first, but it becomes strangely addictive.”

And at Vermont Fiddle Heads raw foods cafe in Worcester, owner Linda Wooliever serves kombucha brewed by Karen Towle at nearby Toll a Bell Farm in East Calais. “Karen is like an alchemist,” says Linda, who serves the drink in wine glasses to cafe patrons. “It’s a real treat.”

Aqua Vitea’s Jeff Weaber hopes that kombucha will replace other attractive beverages, especially those popular with young people. “I’d like to see kombucha penetrate the mainstream market more,” he says. “If we could move kids off soda and on to kombucha, that would be awesome.”

Photos by Scott Neel

About the Author

Sylvia Fagin

Sylvia Fagin

Sylvia Fagin writes about food and agriculture from her home in Montpelier. To make sure that Vic, Marianne and the Bobs were making wine correctly, she recently took a tour of the Calchaquíes Valley winemaking region of northwestern Argentina. She is happy to report that they are right on track. Contact Sylvia via Twitter: @sylviafagin.

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A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.


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